Posted on March 12th, 2021
[as seen on Paste]
Bay Area bedroom-rock trio Sour Widows (Maia Sinaiko, Susanna Thomson and Max Edelman) released their debut self-titled EP in 2020, earning acclaim for their dynamic blend of sharp rock riffs and hushed vocal melodies (think Adrianne Lenker fronting Duster), which they control with the ease and ambition of a much more established band. They planned to keep touring, then start work on recording their first full-length album live in a studio … until COVID rendered all of that impossible.
“2020 was going to be a big year for us and we had a lot of new material we were lining up to record in the studio,” Sinaiko tells Paste. “There was a period of devastation we went through that a lot of bands have felt and continue to feel. But we decided to pare down our initial vision and focus on material we felt we could confidently record ourselves from our various homes, which was exactly the right choice.”
The result was the band’s second EP, Crossing Over (April 23, Exploding in Sound Records), the title track of which you can hear down below, exclusively at Paste. And though the delay in starting on their album was “definitely a disappointment,” says Thomson, “at the same time we felt motivated to keep collaborating and challenge ourselves. We had a lot of support from our engineer Cody Hamilton, who helped us navigate through some deep ProTools lore and troubleshoot the issues that come up in home recording. We had a good amount of recording experience prior to this, but we really wanted to do our best to level up with this EP and make it sound as cohesive as possible with the resources available to us.”
This remote approach was a major shift from the tack Sour Widows had counted on taking, and they remain “attached to recording our first full-length live in the studio together,” says Thomson. But for Crossing Over, the band embraced the unexpected, channeling those feelings of uncertainty into a fresh set of songs. “This new reality brought up different emotions for us as it has of course for everyone,” Thomson continues, “and giving representation to those feelings through the songs we chose and their instrumentation felt like a way to work intentionally with the circumstances.”
“We had to recreate live, cohesive energy from remote locations, so the focus we all brought was extremely intense,” Sinaiko explains. “I think in a way this EP sounds more distinct and fully realized than our self titled because we took so much time demo-ing it and practicing the parts. It’s a step forward for us, which feels good since it wasn’t part of the plan.”
Sour Widows’ growth manifests not only in the precision of their performances, but also in the structures of Crossing Over’s songs themselves. “We wrote some hefty winding songs for this EP, which is certainly a trend in the new material we’ve been working on. It feels more contemporary and mature,” says Sinaiko. “The expansive nature of this EP, and its cohesiveness, are representative of the new directions we’re taking on the album.”
“We talked about the idea of space while envisioning this EP—the physical distance between us, space in music, space that grows between experiences as time passes,” Thomson recalls. “These songs are definitely still meant to rock, but they take their time getting to those moments, and there’s room to breathe in between them. We all feel excited by the idea of using ambient textures in the future, and more acoustic instrumentation—Maia and I both came from acoustic backgrounds, so it feels exciting to incorporate some of those elements back in and expand our imaginations for how we arrange our next songs.”
Crossing Over’s seven-and-a-half-minute title track exemplifies all of the above, from its roving arrangement and contemplative lyrics to the thunderous rock catharsis of its crescendo. Sinaiko and Thomson’s dual guitars start as ripples, slowly moving outward over the surface of a series of memories: “We caught the storm pulling in / From Ohio to Wisconsin / Let the guitars wail / And the flood take the basement / Screamed to sing above it,” Thomson sings. Before long, the song has that storm’s same fearsome force, with Sinaiko and Thomson’s guitars blowing into the mix like squalls of rain, and Edelman’s drums and Timmy Stabler’s bass the rumbling thunder in the distance. “I wish I could become / The only one that you’d love / It wouldn’t be enough,” Thomson murmurs after the storm has passed, sounding broken, yet at some kind of peace.
Thomson recalls the true story behind the powerful track in an email:
That storm is one we truly won’t ever forget! “Crossing Over” is very autobiographical, and is mostly camped in the summer of 2018 when Maia, myself and our best friend Terra were driving back across the country after doing a DIY tour from California out to Western Massachusetts, all crammed into Maia’s truck, which has just one bench seat. The day of the storm, we were driving to Beloit, Wisconsin to play a show at the house Maia lived in during college; that first leg of the trip home I was feeling pretty raw, and processing a lot. During the show itself you could hear the thunder over the PA, and by the end the basement truly did start to flood. The intensity of that storm really affirmed how I was feeling in the moment; it felt so good to rock out and scream as it was coming down outside like that. That particular moment of catharsis is very central to this song for me. At that time I was dealing with things that were out of my control; when the experience of this pandemic brought up similar feelings of powerlessness, it was soothing to revisit that moment again with this song.
If life is what happens when you’re making other plans, then maybe music is what happens when you’re at your most alive. There’s still a debut album in Sour Widows’ plans, but in the meantime, Crossing Over is a detour worth taking.